Kevin Fowler

Ask Kevin Fowler how'd he'd describe his own music and he doesn't think twice before responding: "It's country with a bad attitude. It's country with an edge. It's just beer-drinkin', hell-raisin', good-time music."

And anyone who's ever been to a Kevin Fowler show knows he does far more than just talk the talk—the man delivers one of the most entertaining, high-energy performances you're likely to see in country or any other genre, with a hard-ticket base that rivals many gold-selling artists. A blend of in-your-face rockin' intensity, tongue-in-cheek humor and captivating country storytelling, Kevin's music has his standing-room-only audiences hanging on every word . . . and singing right along with him. Whether it's "Beer, Bait and Ammo," "Cheaper to Keep Her," "The Best Mistake I Ever Made," "Don't Touch My Willie" or any of the other unforgettable tunes that have seen him regularly perched atop the Texas music charts, Kevin's music is the product of years spent perfecting his craft.

And he's not the only beneficiary. Other artists, like Montgomery Gentry ("Long Line of Losers"), Mark Chesnutt ("The Lord Loves a Drinkin' Man") and George Jones (dueting with Kevin on "Me and the Boys"), are among those who have recorded classic versions of Fowler songs.

With his career track record, it would be easy to assume Kevin must've always known music would be his life's passion. After all, how can you be this good at something and not have worked at it for a lifetime? But he admits coming to his career path later in the game than most.

"There was a day in life that changed me," Kevin recalls of the transformative epiphany he experienced at the Texas Jam in the Cotton Bowl back when he was about 20 years old. "I had been dabblin' in music and played everything a little, but nothing well. Aerosmith was there. White Snake. All these bands were playing at a day-long festival. They were hosing down the crowd with big fire hoses. And it was just mayhem. I had never seen 100,000 people in one place. I remember that day going, 'Well, that's what I'm supposed to be doin'.'"

While Amarillo boy Kevin may not have had a clear vision of his life's path prior to that momentous day, he shouldn't have been surprised when he finally realized he was put on this earth to write songs and entertain people. After all, he'd been entertaining in one way or another since his attention-seeking days as a self-described "band geek," playing drums in junior high and high school.

But Kevin's musical training had begun earlier when his mom, Shirley, insisted he take piano lessons, in spite of his hatred of it and his desire to play football instead. Looking back, he thinks his folks made the right call. "They were probably thinkin' to themselves, 'We've seen you play football—that's no good!'" he laughs.

While Kevin recalls knee-knocking piano recitals as his first experience with live performing, his first taste of country music came through the records his dad played—Johnny Horton, Johnny Cash, Buck Owens and Roy Clark. Kevin, of course, rebelled and gravitated more toward rockers AC/DC, Kiss, The Cars, Metallica, and other decidedly non-country bands. "It wasn't 'til later on in life that I thought, 'that (country) stuff was really cool.'"

Kevin recalls Amarillo as a good place to grow up, but entertainment options were, let's say, limited. That meant 16-year-old Kevin and some buddies might sneak a 6-pack of beer on a Friday night, head down the road a few miles to tiny Vega—a town of under 1,000 people—find an old dirt road and "hide out." Let the good times roll!

So, was there a little culture shock when Kevin moved to California a few years later? "It was like fallin' right off the turnip wagon," he laughs. "I was in shock."

The move to L.A. came after Kevin, then a junior at West Texas A&M in Canyon, saw that life-changing show at the Cotton Bowl. With 100 credits toward a business degree, he quit school and went to the coast to study at the G.I.T guitar institute. While there, he learned how incredibly competitive the music world really is. So, was he intimidated?

"No. It was just an eye opener. My mama always persisted in telling me, 'Whatever you're gonna do, don't be a quitter.' That's why she never would let me quit piano music. Somebody told me one time, 'You've gotta stay in the game long enough to get lucky.'"

After finishing school in L.A., Kevin—a road warrior at heart—realized that paying gigs were few and far between in Los Angeles. "That's the only reason I got into music . . . to play live," says Kevin, who'll do about 150 shows this year . . . slightly fewer than usual because of time spent writing and recording. So he left L.A. and tested the waters elsewhere. "A friend lived in Austin. I was gonna go there, then I was gonna check out Nashville and figure out where I needed to be. When I got to Austin, that 5-day visit turned into a permanent stay. Been there ever since."

Not long after his move to Austin, Kevin joined a band that became Rumble Train, but soon discovered he was the only with any motivation. Then he fell in with long-haired rockers Dangerous Toys (yep, short-haired, cowboy hat-wearing Kevin was in a hard rock band—there's a rumor photos exist!). And, not surprisingly, they had a problem with Kevin's tunes. "'Man, these are redneck songs! We can't play any of these.'" So, in a move that was more necessity than intention, Kevin began singing them himself.

And Kevin, the rocker who also wore out two cassettes of George Strait's Right or Wrong album, found a way to combine the best of both worlds. "I've always liked rock, for the attitude and the energy. But I've always liked the country lyric. It just tells a story. And I try to combine those elements . . . make it rockin' and fun with a good lyric in there, a good turn of a phrase."

That ability has given Kevin more than a decade of success in his Texas stomping grounds where he is embraced with a vengeance by audiences who love him and his music. But he wants more.

"At first, my whole thing was to make a livin' playin.' 'Course, once you get that, you do want more. Right now, we're just tryin' to spread the gospel of Hank Williams and honky tonks to the rest of the world." But Kevin admits he's intent on doing that without alienating his strong, loyal fan base by changing his music or who he is. "You gotta remember to dance with who brung ya."

Ultimately, Kevin knows he only has control over one thing in his career. "What you do onstage . . . nobody can make you sound crappy but you. That's Kevin Fowler Music 101 in a nutshell. Make it about the fans, the live show and the music. And hopefully everything else will come from there."

Cody Johnson

In an time of synthetics and plastics, folks appreciate the real thing. Musically, we look for songs that reach beyond our eardrums, touching our hearts. Cody Johnson's unique blend of Country and Rock does just that.

Many Texas Music fans met Cody Johnson's honest style through the radio singles from his Six Strings, One Dream album: "Nobody to Blame" (#6 on the Texas music charts in 2009); #1"Pray for Rain" (2009 - 2010); and "Texas Kind of Way" (#6, late 2010 – 2011).

At first opening for other artists, Cody has also taken the Texas dance-halls by storm. Increasingly, the Cody Johnson Band is the attraction, and an honest-to-goodness one.

Cody's childhood, though, was different from his rowdy onstage personality. Growing up, home was Sebastopol, a speck on the East Texas piney woods map, the perfect setting for that country boy to roam the woods, hunt, and fish. Home-schooling and family times around the piano provided the kind of life the kind many folks envy. Even Cody's music training started when dad Carl taught him the chords to "I'll Fly Away," a Southern Gospel favorite.

Starting public school as a freshmen, Cody expanded beyond playing the guitar and drums at church. When his "ag science" teacher overheard Cody playing an original song, he convinced Cody to form a band with other FFA (Future Farmers of America) members. A few months later, Cody's band placed "runner-up" in the highly competitive Texas State FFA talent contest.

Cody left the contest realizing he was in love for life: in love with the music, the crowd, and the energy of performing onstage. Beginning in small honky-tonks and bars, he tried different musical styles. Discarding many, today Cody's shows still keep a Garth Brooks-level of energy and a Ronnie Van Zant - outlaw dedication to individual style. Like the late Chris LeDoux's musical beginnings, "CoJo" sold his acoustic CDs from the back of his truck during three years of bull-riding. Cody still shows up today as the true cowboy he is.

After graduation, Johnson worked for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in Huntsville. There, supervising prison inmates, Cody confides, "I developed an even greater appreciation for family and friends. Seeing how easy it was to go to prison set me on the 'straight and narrow'."

Also in Huntsville, Cody met Nathan Reedy, who became his new drummer. With Carl Johnson playing bass, the trio began traveling as the Cody Johnson Band. Their first CD, Black & White Label, provided funding for travel and radio promotion - and the assurance that the music dream was real.

Along the way, several popular artists have shared their friendship, fans and wisdom with Cody. Some had business advice and warned him of issues musicians face on the road. The common thread is that other professionals respect Cody as performer, songwriter and individual. In turn, Cody Johnson earns that respect, giving as much effort to an audience of 30 or 30,000. As he states, "I like the crowd to sing along, yell, or whatever makes them feel part of the show. I love big crowds because of the energy and showmanship I can exhibit. I love acoustic shows because of the intimacy and how candid they are. Acoustic shows are like sittin' around the living room 'pickin' and grinnin'."

Winning the Texas' Regional Music Awards as "New Male Vocalist of the Year, 2011," caused Cody to choose whether leave the security of State employment to chase his dreams. So he followed his own advice to "Always pray for direction, and know that no matter what..., the good Lord has a plan."

The answer to that prayer came when Cody's wife Brandi gave her "thumbs-up." As Cody puts it, "When the woman I love - and plan to spend the rest of my life with - told me that she 'stands by her man' and believes in me 100%, I believed even more confidently that I could live my dream. Though I've had lots of people believe, contribute, push and pull me along, no one's efforts affected my decision emotionally the way Brandi's faith in me did."

Cody indeed left his "day job" for the more-than-full-time music career. But, that'swhere the story really begins.

Expanding his boundaries beyond Texas, he flew to Nashville to record a new CD with Nashville studio musicians hand-picked by his "big brother," Nashville-based fellow Texan, Trent Willmon, producer of the new album, A Different Day (released October 31,2011).

Though new to Nashville recording ways, Johnson's musical confidence showed in the Music City recording studio. Together, he and the studio musicians tweaked songs to obtain the exact intended effect. Listening to the Music City veterans, Cody adopted suggestions when they felt right, and would "hang tough" when he felt the music differently.

According to CoJo, "I don't want to be labeled as 'Texas' or 'Nashville.' I am me: Texas, outlaw, cowboy, country, and a God-fearing man using the gift He gave me."

-Billie Willmon Jenkin

There’s no shortage of country music in Crooks’ hometown of Austin, TX. But ask anyone who has crammed into a packed honky-tonk to catch one of their infamously rowdy late-night shows and they’ll tell you there’s something that sets them apart from the rest.

Crooks are breathing new life into decades-old musical traditions, stripping away the polish and shine of modern radio country and replacing it with earnest songs about life, work and pain. Sometimes it’s weary and lonesome, sometimes it’s downright bleak, and oftentimes it’s just reckless fun. Suddenly, country music is dangerous again.

Frontman Josh Mazour formed Crooks in 2007 as a two-piece band, playing stripped down sets at dive bars around Austin. Things have grown from there. He’s now joined by drummer Rob Bacak, stand-up bassist Andrew VanVoorhees, and multi-instrumentalist Sam Alberts, who alternates between guitar, banjo, mandolin, and trumpet. Live, Crooks are an even greater spectacle, as fiddle, trumpet, and accordion players jump on stage throughout their set.
Crooks released their debut LP ‘The Rain Will Come’ this year, featuring guest appearances from accordion legend Flaco Jimenez of the Texas Tornados, and produced by Danny Reisch, known for his work with other Austin luminaries like The Bright Light Social Hour, Okkervil River, Shearwater, and White Denim.

Mazour lists songwriting greats like Hank Williams Sr., Townes Van Zandt, Billy Joe Shaver, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Blaze Foley and even Kurt Cobain as influences on his style, which he describes as “just unapologetic country songwriting.”

“Country music is honest music,” he says. “You can get straight to your point, and if no one likes it, that's fine. But you don't have to hide your feelings in tired metaphors and youthful whining.” ‘The Rain Will Come’ has been a resounding success, kicking down doors for the band on a national level. American Songwriter called it “a driving slice of country noir,” and CMT.com praised it as “rugged and lonesome,” saying “this style of country music makes you want to keep your tab open.” KUT-FM put their money on Crooks as the “Austin artist most likely to score big in 2012,” while the Austin American-Statesman predicts that “the seemingly endless stream of media praise… points toward something bigger coming.” But Mazour takes it all in stride. “I write songs because it's the only thing I'm good at doing. I have no idea what else to do with myself at this point,” he says. “I know I'm still gonna piss some people off, make mistakes, and that I have a lot to learn. If I write a drinking song, it's probably because I went to sleep at six in the morning the night before. That's another thing that sets us apart from a lot of country musicians. I don't think these some of these guys even go to bars anymore. We do, a lot.”

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Kevin Fowler with Cody Johnson, Crooks

Friday, June 21 · Doors 7:00 PM / Show 8:00 PM at John T. Floore Country Store

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